With this week’s historic dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, many will be remembering various points of the slain civil rights leader’s life. In an upcoming BET documentary, Alpha Man: The Brotherhood of MLK, director/producer Rob Hardy spotlights a part of King’s journey — his days as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity — barely discussed by history. Hardy, a producer of the film Stomp the Yard, sat down with BET.com to discuss the documentary and the important role the fraternity played in getting King’s memorial built.
What inspired you to do the Alpha Man documentary, focusing on Dr.King’s life as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha?
I was having a conversation with some execs over at BET, and we were talking about creating a project for the MLK Memorial weekend. What’s interesting is that the Alphas, the fraternity, were the ones who spearheaded the movement to get the monument built. So, because King was an Alpha and because the organization led the charge and made the monument happen we thought, why not tell the story about King as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. He started working in civil rights after he was in the fraternity. A lot of people he worked with were Alphas. It’s a story we never heard of, we thought it would be interesting to tell that side of King’s story.
What do you want viewers to understand about the fraternity’s role in King’s life?
First of all, we want people to understand that you don’t have to be a member of fraternity or a sorority to do good work. But, at the same time, being in the fraternity had a positive impact on King, which inspired him to do a lot of the things he did. And, likewise, King inspired many Alpha men to do the same. It’s all about positive people inspiring each other to help the community.
You mentioned the role the Alphas had in establishing the MLK memorial? What, specifically, did the organization, do?
The organization basically made the decision that they wanted the memorial built. So they put together a committee, went to congress and spent 15 years trying to get the necessary paperwork done and [legislative] bills passed to have the memorial built. So, the Alphas basically made that happen. We’re the first organization to start raising funds. The Alpha men were over the fundraising committee and the whole project — of designing and building the monument.
From my understanding many Black fraternities were founded as a way to fight discrimination and racial isolation, particularly on college campuses. In what ways do the Alphas continue that struggle outside of a campus?
What we do is we have programs like Project Alpha where you go out and mentor kids, giving away scholarship money, rebuilding neighborhoods, doing highway clean up. Also we do community service with other organizations. One of the things I saw, when I went to Florida A&M University, was — to be a member of the fraternity — you had mandatory community service. So imagine if you went to school and part of your requirement is community service. You have to help tutor a kid or you have to go and work at an after-school program. Nobody requires you to do that — Alpha does. So, even though there’s all the parties and the stepping, it’s still all service-based.
Alpha Man has never-before-seen footage and first-person accounts of King. What are some of the new things we’ll learn about Dr. King from this documentary?
We’ll learn why it was never publicized that King was a member of Alpha. As a member of the fraternity, myself, I knew he was a member. But there was not a lot of information on his life as a fraternity brother or what he did in Alpha. We also find out, first hand, what it was like to be in the civil rights struggle with Dr. King: what it was like to get a beating and say you were non-violent. You’ll learn about who Dr. King was around the time he was becoming an Alpha, before we knew he was this great civil rights worker. [We’ll learn] what kind of student he was, what he liked to do. We really get to find out that King was a really cool, charismatic, normal guy. He wasn’t the guy — that people think — who walked on water. He was just a cool guy who wound up becoming this great man.
Alpha Man will air Sunday, August 28 at 7:00 p.m. (EST). Encore at 11:30 p.m.
(Photo: Courtesy of Rob Hardy)